Coronavirus misinformation tool launched to flag misleading health claims

·3-min read

An online misinformation detection tool developer has created a new version of its software which will flag misleading health claims linked to Covid-19.

NewsGuard, which launched its original misinformation filter in the UK in 2019, has now created a new browser extension called HealthGuard.

Free to download and use with all major browsers – Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge – the tool displays colour-coded ratings next to links on search engines, social media and other platforms to indicate whether the site is a trustworthy source of health information.

NewsGuard’s ratings use nine criteria to measure whether a source can be trusted and if not, warns users to proceed with caution when they encounter information from that source.

HealthGuard initially launched earlier this year but was made available exclusively to medical institutions and others, but the tool is now being made free to all until the end of June in an effort to combat the spread of misinformation, particularly around vaccinations.

Alongside its announcement, NewsGuard said it had found 405 websites that are actively promoting misinformation about Covid-19 in the UK, US, France, Germany and Italy.

The firm has also warned that a number of “super-spreader” accounts are posting anti-vaccine misinformation on social media.

According to a NewsGuard report on the issue, a handful of accounts across Facebook and Instagram were reaching more than three million followers.

Anna-Sophie Harling, managing director for Europe at NewsGuard Technologies, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, social media platforms have left their users exposed and vulnerable to the devastating impacts of Covid-19 misinformation.

“NewsGuard is proud to play our part supporting the rollout of the UK’s vaccination efforts by combating false anti-vax narratives.

“All users deserve tools which help them navigate misinformation and direct them towards credible sources.”

The tool has also received the backing of the Government.

Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dineage, said the tool was a great example of technology being used to help stop misinformation spreading.

“People must be able to distinguish facts from fiction, especially health information in the pandemic, and this initiative is a great example of technology helping people to trust what they read and keep misinformation in check,” she said.

“We continue to work with social media companies to tackle the spread of false information online, and our upcoming Online Safety Bill will ensure they take more robust action to tackle it.”

As part of its work, NewsGuard also provides information to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about websites and social media accounts which are spreading false claims online.

Andy Pattinson, who leads the WHO’s digital channels team, said: “Though health misinformation circulates online, it causes real-life consequences.

“We must put tools in the hands of people everywhere so they can better assess the credibility of health information online in order to make informed health choices in their life.

“NewsGuard has been instrumental in helping WHO and partners keep people safe by identifying and combating online Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation.”

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